Connecting to campus culture through tradition

Laura Huenneke

By Laura Huenneke, Provost

Modern society seems to favor breaking news and the latest fashions over cultural history and respect for the past. That leaves college life as one of the most visible settings where traditions are still cultivated and celebrated.

I was thinking of tradition as we enjoyed this week’s welcome picnic—a relatively young tradition on campus.

It’s not easy to create new traditions that really fit a community. We’ve been fortunate these past few years to add the picnic, as well as Family Weekend’s Celebration of Academic Achievement, to the list of Lumberjack favorites.

Of course, it’s not that easy to get rid of old customs, either—witness the persistence of Tequila Sunrise excess at Homecoming, despite many efforts at redirection.

Traditions help shape the identity and working environment of a campus community. A thought-provoking essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year reflected on the importance of introducing new colleagues (hired from elsewhere) to the campus culture and identity.

The author observed that often campus culture centers on “sagas” or tales of difficult moments in institutional history: stiff budget cuts or wretched leadership, for example. The essay pointed out the value in shaping a culture based equally on points of pride and a shared sense of accomplishment.

This certainly seems a happy moment in the history of Northern Arizona University. Enrollments are booming (against the backdrop of stagnating enrollment nationwide); new, innovative programs are being launched; and faculty achieve recognition for their scholarship and leadership.

The Flagstaff campus continues to flourish. We’re creating new ways to support student learning and achievement. Sharing traditional events (whether move-in weekend, the welcome picnic, or football games) is part of building our connections within the NAU community.